Appreciating the Subtle Workings of the Holy Spirit
As I write this, I just concluded the inaugural launch of our brand new seminar, Miracles and the Supernatural Through Church History. I was so pleased with how this seminar went, and the study of this material has been some of the most enriching I’ve ever done. The focus of this seminar is on the working of the Holy Spirit throughout so much of the past 2,000 years to confirm the preaching of the gospel and to build the Church.
Here are statements from a few of the early church fathers:
- Justin Martyr (100-165) wrote, “For the prophetic gifts remain with us even to the present time” and “now it is possible to see among us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God.”
- After mentioning several of the same gifts Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 12, Hilary of Poitiers (310-367) states, “In all these gifts the presence of the Spirit is manifested in concrete effects. If the gifts are effective and profitable, then let us make use of such generous gifts. We are inundated with the gifts of the Spirit.”
- Basil of Caesarea (329-379) said, “The Spirit is present in prophecy, healings, and other wonderful works, all of which are still to be found.”
- After stating, “Even now, therefore, many miracles are worked,” Augustine (354-430) wrote, “I cannot record all the miracles I know; and doubtless several of our adherents, when they read what I have narrated, will regret that I have omitted so many which they, as well as I, certainly know.”
All through church history, the Holy Spirit has manifested himself to heal, bless, deliver, and empower. As wonderful as it is to learn about the “notable works” of God (Acts 4:16), it is also important to recognize and appreciate the full spectrum of the Holy Spirit’s activities, including his more subtle activity.
For example, in addressing divine guidance, Kenneth Hagin says: “The inward witness is just as supernatural as guidance through visions and so on; it is just not as spectacular. Many people are looking for the spectacular and missing the supernatural that is right there all the time.”
There are many supernatural workings of God that are not classified as “miraculous” per se, but they are operations of the Holy Spirit nonetheless. Consider the importance of the following:
- Conviction of sin that facilitates repentance
- The New Birth
- Assurance (The Spirit bears witness with our spirits)
- Illumination (The Spirit quickening our understanding of the Scripture)
- The Infilling of the Holy Spirit
- Empowerment for Service
- Divine Comfort, Peace
- Divine Guidance
- Cultivation of Character (the fruit of the Spirit, etc.)
- Compassion, Mercy, etc. (Rom 5:5)
Instead of having a broad appreciation for God’s comprehensive work, the disciples tended to focus on a more spectacular aspect. For example, they were exuberant that demons were subject to them when they used the name of Jesus. The Lord reinforced the authority that belonged to them, but told them, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
We are to be thankful for everything God does, but sometimes we overlook what Jesus asked we not forget—that we are forgiven, cleansed, accepted, and headed toward heaven. We should not be more excited about anything more than that. Perhaps angels rejoice when someone gets healed here on earth, but we know for a fact that they rejoice when someone gets born again! Jesus states, “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
Johann Blumehardt, a German minister who advocated divine healing in the 1800s made this observation about miracles:
Jesus did not like it when people made a big to-do about his miracles. He always had something more in mind than the miracle itself. When Jesus performed a miracle, what mattered most to him was that it would arouse a deep, godly feeling. His acts of mercy were signs of something greater—something beyond the temporal. He touched the inner person. All his words and deeds came straight from his heart and touched people’s hearts, which in turn evoked praise and glory to God. In short, his healing hand made the glory and love of God visible to everyone.
When I read Blumehardt’s words, I am reminded that Jesus did not randomly perform mighty works to fascinate or entertain people. Jesus did what he did to glorify God, to validate the veracity of his message, and to demonstrate the compassion of God. Miracles, to Jesus, were never an end in and of themselves. Rather, they were a means to an end.
The purpose of this teaching is not to take anything away from the Holy Spirit’s role in ministering healing. Healing the sick was dear to heart of Jesus, and he even called it “the children’s bread” (Mark 7:27). Rather, I am advocating that all of the Holy Spirit’s work be honored and appreciated. The Holy Spirit is involved in the work of healing, and he is also involved in so much more. One’s ministry is not less significant simply because it is not a “signs and wonders” ministry.
Consider what the people who were very familiar with the ministry of John the Baptist said of him: “John didn’t perform miraculous signs,” they remarked to one another, “but everything he said about this man has come true” (John 10:41, NLT). Though John the Baptist was not a miracle worker, consider what the angel of the Lord said about John to Zacharias:
For he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly. (Luke 1:15-17, NLT)
That is a LOT of Holy Spirit empowered ministry for someone who was not a miracle worker.
When it comes to appreciating the work of the Holy Spirit when what he does is subtle, I can’t think of a better illustration than that which happened with Elijah. The prophet was at a crisis point in his life. He had seen some very powerful, outstanding miracles, but when a threat came from Jezebel, he experienced a meltdown. Fearing for his life, he escaped to the wilderness and was hiding in a cave. He was in profound emotional upheaval feeling isolated and mired in despair. Consider God’s interaction with Elijah:
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1Kings 19:11-13, NKJV)
Isn’t that fascinating? A man who had seen all kinds of demonstrations of God’s power encounters a great and strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire, and yet God was not in any of these. Rather, in this case, God was in the still small voice. Perhaps God wanted to teach Elijah not to miss the supernatural due to looking for the spectacular.
What is especially interesting to me is that at different times, God has been in the strong wind (for example, on the day of Pentecost). God has also shown up in an earthquake (for example, when Paul and Silas were set free from prison). God has also been in the fire (for example, when God spoke to Moses through the burning bush). A powerful lesson in this is that we should not get married to a particular manifestation. God may not do things the same way every time, and we should be open and flexible to God working in different ways at different times.
My heart’s desire is that we would step into a fresh awareness and awakening of the Holy Spirit’s desires to work and to manifest God’s good nature and benevolence. I pray that we would have a profound appreciation for all that he does—from the still small voice, to Spirit-inspired helps ministry, to empowered preaching, and to miraculous signs and wonders.
We need the full range of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives and ministries. D. L. Moody beautifully stated: “I believe this is a mistake a great many of us are making; we are trying to do God’s work with the grace God gave us ten years ago. Now, what we want is a fresh supply, a fresh anointing and fresh power, and if we seek it, and seek it with all our hearts, we will obtain it.”